Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Naso

Our Sages tell us that each person has 3 parents: mother, father, and God.  It is a true parenting triad – the mother and father provide the body, and God provides the soul.  This parenting bond begins with the conception of the baby and continues throughout the life of the person.   

Maimonides comments that of all the 613 commandments in Judaism, the hardest one to keep is to honour our parents.  I’ve heard that our parents will always know how to push our buttons because they are the ones who installed them.  With the 3 parents in our lives, what is true about our relationship with our mothers and fathers is true about our relationship with God.  When God pushes our buttons, those are some pretty big buttons, and they can have huge consequences to us. 

Understanding that makes us appreciate the importance of Birkhat haKohanim (the Priestly Blessings) that appear in this week’s parshah, Naso.  God tells Moses to teach Aaron how to bless the people with the three blessings whose simplicity and beauty says everything we’d want to say: 

“May God bless you and guard you 

May God shine the Divine Face on you and be gracious 

May God lift the Divine Face toward you and place peace upon you” 

It begins as a ritual of the Kohanim blessing the people, and it eventually becomes the blessing of parents on their children every Friday night.  It is the time when parents speak with God as one parent speaks to the other.  We hold our children and grandchildren close to us and quietly speak God’s words back to God, as one parent saying to the other: ‘when they’re with me, I’ve got them covered – but in those moments when I’m not there, I expect that you’ve got them covered’. 

It is the perfect example of how ritual is meant to work.  It starts in the Torah, moves through time and history to speak with relevance to our most important relationships and bonds today.  The Jewish people are always one family.  As we prepare for Shabbat, I offer this week’s parshah blessing for us all: 

May God bless us and guard us. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 


Shabbat shalom, 

Rabbi Rachael 

Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Behar/Behukotai

This Shabbat we read a double parshah: Behar/Behukotai.  It begins by saying that God spoke to Moses at the mountain.  The word ‘behar’ means both ‘at the mountain’ and ‘in the mountain’, which clearly raises questions.  For me, I always think of the piano teacher I had when I was growing up.  

My piano teacher was an avid church going woman, and she and I would have great conversations about religious practice.  Her social engagements (as she put it) always revolved around her church groups.  She was the first person in my life for whom I would attach the phrase ‘prim and proper’.  My piano teacher showed me how to create tea essence, rather than quickly use a teabag (an inexcusable shortcut in her eyes).  Every now and then I could glimpse her private life, but only brief glimpses.  Once, she told me that her brother was a pilot in the Canadian Air Force, and had been killed in the Second World War.  For a moment she paused, and then it was back to our lesson.  Our worlds were so different, but over the years there were wonderful intersecting moments.

The only time we had a disconnect of understanding was when I had to book my music theory exams.  Every date she mentioned was a Saturday.  I told her I can never take that exam on a Saturday.  I outlined the problems getting to the Conservatory on Shabbat, as well as the problem of writing.  I asked if I could take the exam orally, assuming I could walk there.  No variations on the exam were possible. Rules were rules.   My teacher felt frustrated – she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t negotiate around the problem with a religious leader.  She asked me why my rabbi wouldn’t just give me a dispensation to write the exam.  That was our moment of disconnect –I didn’t understand what a dispensation from a religious obligation meant..

I never took those exams, and after all our years of preparation together she felt I had let her down.  I couldn’t explain my world to her, and she couldn’t explain hers..  I think of her when we read this week’s Torah portion, parshat Behar/Bechukotai.  The very beginning of the parshah states: “When Moses was at Mount Sinai (behar)”, which is a correct translation, but ignores the literal layers of the word ‘behar’.  It means both ‘at the mountain’, as well as ‘in the mountain’.  Revelation at Sinai is not an experience that is lived, it is an experience, like the mountain, that is entered.  

At one point, Moses asks to see God, and God says no.  Instead, God tells Moses to enter a nook in the rock, and God will pass over Moses’ face – Moses will then feel the Divine Essence.  God could have done the same thing while Moses stood in open spaces, but God instructed Moses to stand inside the mountain.  Some things can only be felt and understood while standing within them.  The revelation at Sinai, and ‘behar’, tell us that our Judaism is best understood while we stand within it.  

The Torah reading this week invites us to enter our Judaism and ask all our questions while standing inside, protected with the solid rocks of ancestry.  From that position we build bridges to everything around us and the world connects.

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,


Rachael’s Thoughts on the 14th day of Iyar

Today, Friday May 5th, the 14th day of Iyar, is a special day in the Jewish calendar –it’s Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover.  While we were in the wilderness, about a month after celebrating Pesach, a group of people approached Moses and said they were legitimately unable to participate in the holiday of Pesach, it’s not fair that they miss out and don’t get to celebrate.  Is there no way to ‘do it over’ just for them?  Moses consults with God, and Pesach Sheni, the Second Pesach, is set. 

In today’s world, the very question seems baffling.  Why would anyone ask to do Pesach later if they legitimately couldn’t do it the first time?  If Judaism allowed them to miss it (for example, health concerns), would someone today ask a rabbi if they could stop eating bread and only eat matzah one month later?  What are we missing today that our people in the ancient world understood?  Why is this group asking for a ‘do-over’? 

Having ‘do-overs’ is something we all experience as children.  I remember being in school and playing jump rope at recess.  If you missed your step and the rope stopped during your turn, you were officially ‘out’.  But you could ask for a ‘do-over’, an arbitrary moment of compassion, where you will be granted your turn again.  You have asked for a free turn to…well…do it over.  The decision is made by the owner of the jump rope.  It’s a moment of power and privilege to the owner of the rope, a request for compassion to be granted from the ‘owner’, the one higher than you.  It’s both a political and theological metaphoric moment in the school playground.  As kids, we don’t process all that, we just want the ‘do-over’. 

Jewishly, we actually don’t want do-overs because mistakes and errors are part of what shape us.  Teshuvah, repentance, learning to correct and move forward, are important moments we don’t want to give up –important Jewish skills we want to learn. But while we don’t want the ‘do over’, we do want the ‘do again’.  I want to be in the moment under my chuppah with my chosen partner… again.  I want the moment I met each of my babies…again.  I want the bear hugs of my father and the cuddles of my mother…again.  I don’t want to miss out on wonderful things, and that is exactly why a group of people approach Moses and ask not to miss out on celebrating Pesach.  To them, it’s a wonderful thing. 

There’s the detail that opens everything for us.  We’re supposed to enjoy our rituals.  Judaism should be a good thing in our lives, a positive and solid foundation from which we encounter the world.  Ritual should be celebratory — something we don’t want to miss.  The moment we question why there would be a Pesach Sheni is an indicator that we may want to reposition Judaism in our lives.  It should always pull us to joy and celebrations. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 


Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Acharei Mot & Kedoshim

Within the Torah readings this Shabbat is ‘The Holiness Code’.  As soon as we hear that it’s a ‘how to’ on holiness, we expect something spiritual, something esoteric with elevated philosophies. We don’t get that, instead we get details on relationships, and details on harvesting.  It heads to the mundane, which begs the question: where’s the holiness in The Holiness Code? 

Perhaps the holiness actually sits in all the details rather than in the grandeur.  In teaching us how to harvest our fields, the Torah tells us to leave the corners alone, in other words, harvest in spirals.  It’s important to remember that land isn’t measured in circles, it’s measured in squares or rectangles so it will always have corners.  It makes the most sense to harvest in lines.  By being told to harvest in spirals, it now becomes impossible to get into the corners, which will always remain outside of the harvester’s reach.  We are also told that if a harvester drops anything they cut, it must remain on the ground and the harvester must proceed onward.  At first glance these are strange laws that seem to represent losses to the land owner. 

The holiness aspect enters when we understand that every field has more than harvesters in it.  Among those who are paid to harvest are people who are unemployed, as well as people who are hungry.  When the harvester drops something, it is not picked up because someone who needs it will now gather it and keep it.  The harvesters are kept out of the corners of the field because the poor and the disadvantaged will harvest the corners and keep what they harvest. 

But why not simply harvest everything and give a percentage as charity, which would result in the same thing?  But it’s not the same thing, it’s merely the same outcome.  Charity puts food on someone’s table, but it’s the result of my work, not theirs.  Charity is transformed when we build shared experiences that produce shared outcomes.  In the same field, some are harvesting, some are gathering, but all are  productively working together.  Everyone puts food on their own table that is the result of the work of their own hands.   

Holiness is when someone who is disadvantaged has the same experience as someone who has privilege. 

In today’s world, it would be similar to giving a homeless person a gift card to the same place you buy your coffee or food.  With the gift card, that person now enters the same place, is treated equally, and sits together with everyone in a shared experience.  Holiness is created when everyone is treated with honour and respect.   

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 


Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Thoughts on Rosh Chodesh Iyar

This Shabbat is the beginning of a new month in our Jewish calendar, it’s Rosh Chodesh Iyar.  Iyar is the second month of the Jewish ritual year.  Nisan, the month we celebrate Pesach, is the month the Torah specifies as our first month.  Iyar is the month after Nisan, so it is the second month of our year – it’s the Jewish ‘February’.  January has all the excitement and hype of newness, and February has…28 days.  Nothing special goes on in February.  The most unique thing about February is…it has 28 days.  It’s about the number of days, and in that way it’s very similar to Iyar.  Iyar is the month of counting the Omer as we head to Shavuot.  The entire month is a month of counting, it’s about the number of days. 

There is a common Jewish joke that compares the month of Iyar to a famous, boring donkey named Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh and the Hundred Acre Wood.  It’s not just that they sound the same (Iyar & Eeyore), it’s also that Eeyore is a dismal donkey, Pooh Bear’s flatlined, monotonic friend, who cannot rise to the excitement of anything. But once we’ve opened the door to the Jewishness of Eeyore, we cannot help but step through that door and explore the fullness of the Hundred Acre Wood, in its Jewishness, of course. 

Pooh Bear is the young child who goes to the Jewish after-school program at shul.  He doesn’t always see how the Jewish things he’s learning fits into his day, but in the end, Pooh Bear connects with ideas that speak to him in very unique ways.  Eeyore is Iyar (how could I resist?), the ‘goes along to get along’ person in shul who anchors and comforts with their very presence – there might not be a glowing smile, and maybe there’s a keen awareness of what went wrong, but they are reliable, dependable, and will always be there for everyone.  Piglet is the loyal bubbly shul goer who gets excited about everything – always the first to arrive, they welcome everyone else, and genuinely anticipate a great service.  Rabbit heads committees to make sure things get done; a stickler for details, he’s clearly the reason all the great ideas actually get done.  Christopher Robin is the Gabbai who makes sure things are as they should be.  Kanga is every parent, and Roo is every toddler.  Owl is, of course, the Sage Talmudist who informs far beyond what was asked, only to confuse the matter.  Last, but not least, is our beloved Tigger, who shows up at all our simchas (though we’re not quite sure whose guest list he was on) — he’s in every hora and kicks up the party to true joy.  We now have a complete Hundred Acre Minyan. 

But aside from the philosophical dive into Winnie the Pooh, the month of Iyar has a beautiful message for us.  The month before, Nisan, has all the excitement of Pesach while the month afterwards, Sivan, has the holiday of Shavuot – Iyar has no holiday.  The rabbis warn us not to think of Iyar as a time to be passive.  In fact, the letters of the Hebrew word ‘Iyar’ create the acronym: “I am God, your Healer”, and so Iyar becomes the month of healing.  A time of processing internally, and quietly, for healing and strength.  It might look like nothing is happening, but often the most powerful of things happen humbly inside of us.  We must never mistake humility for passivity.   

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 


Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Thoughts on Parshat Shemini

This week’s Torah reading, parashat Shemini, introduces Israel to the routine of sacrifices, and the strict structures of fixed ritual.  Having to be spiritual in preset moments of our day is something we struggle with all the time – why can’t I just pray when I feel like praying? 

Long ago, the Sages discussed the tension that exists between spontaneous and fixed prayer.  At times, we enter the moment as it occurs, and express ourselves with a spontaneous prayer that is uniquely ours.  Other times, we are told to pick up a Siddur at specific times of the day and use the words printed there.  Both of those expressions feed our souls, in very different ways. 

In this week’s parashah, Israel is being introduced to fixed ritual through specific sacrifices that are triggered by time or events – nothing spontaneous. Humanity calling out to God from within a human moment is natural to us, and we see it happening throughout Torah. It is the fixed routine of spirituality that is new and challenging – telling our souls, which are timeless, that they are now on a schedule for spiritual expression.  

Prayer is often challenging, not because we don’t feel a moment of depth, but because we may not feel it in the specific hours we’re gathered together with a Siddur in our hands.  This challenge isn’t new, as we hear the discussions in the Talmud of rabbis introducing their spontaneous prayers into the time of a fixed prayer.  In other words, the answer is not to always choose one or the other, it is to layer one into the other.   

If being spontaneous speaks strongly to you, find a moment to also utter a line of prayer from the Siddur – if praying out of a Siddur speaks strongly to you, find a moment to also stop and utter a personal spontaneous prayer.  Create a prayer that is both timeless and time bound. 

Layering both expressions together is the way the Torah reminds us that both our bodies and our souls are holy and must enhance each other.  Our bodies are entirely of this world, each cell containing its own clock, keeping us connected to time.  Our souls are entirely of the spiritual realm, connected to God, existing outside time.  Our expression of prayer, entering a holy moment, elevates our awareness of both a structured existence as well as a spontaneous one. Jewish ritual is not entirely about the details of the expression, it includes the nuanced expression of our personal moments. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 

Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Pesach Message for 2023

Together, over the years, we’ve explored many of the themes and important moments that weave in and around our Seders.  I thought it might be nice to summarize a few of these thoughts as we are about to enter the holiday this year.

The Haggadah includes a debate on whether you believe justice or mercy should prevail once we are safe.  Were ten plagues enough?  Maybe hundreds of plagues would reflect a more just Divine response.  Were ten plagues too many?  Maybe mercy should have prevailed, and we should only refer to these plagues by their initials.   Do you believe that once there is no threat from an enemy, the fighting should end, or is safety only possible when an enemy is utterly erased?

Matzah is called ‘the bread of affliction’ and we usually believe it only represents our suffering.  Yet, the Torah clearly shows us that the last plague, death of the ‘first born’ is actually death of the one holding the birthright.  As this plague cycles through Egypt, over and over, the birthright will move to the next living child – the result is the inevitable death of every Egyptian.  The Torah describes the screams coming from all their homes.  The only way to stop the plague is to leave, and so God tells us to be ready to grab the matzah before it is done, because the level of human suffering is so high.  The ‘bread of affliction’ includes more than only us. 

The Haggadah is our only text that is never formally closed – we are told that anyone who expands in the telling of these events is only to be praised.  We understand that praise to be for those who expand with meaningfulness, and not for those who only expand to the length of the Seder.  

The Seder is meant as a pivotal Jewish moment for the younger generation to watch their older family members.  We are teaching them the importance of our history; how we tell it; how we infuse it with meaning. The Seder begins as we understand that the constraints of Egypt exist in all our lives today.  It ends as we proclaim a hopeful moment of “Next year in Jerusalem!”, and sing our favourite songs together.  The flow of the night moves us from slavery to redemption.

In other words, every year we teach our children that we know how to journey from despair to hope.  God showed us how, our Sages shaped the Seder around it, and we recommit to it every year.   Moving from despair to hope is our journey of redemption, and Judaism tells us we are redeemed everyday.

Wishing everyone a meaningful Pesach, with a prayer for daily redemption and unity for all the Jewish people, here and in Israel!

Chag Kasher v’Sameach, 

Rachael’s Thoughts on Shabbat Hagadol

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Hagadol, The Grand Sabbath, the Shabbat before Pesach.   One of the reasons for this name is because this is the first time, while still in Egypt, on the verge of leaving, Israel willingly takes on the choice to fulfill a commandment.  This means all the Israelites in Egypt cross the threshold of becoming an adult, becoming Bnei Mitzvah, and the meaning of Gadol, when speaking of a person, speaks of someone who is no longer a minor, someone who is a mature adult. 

But being an adult, with free will, immediately raises a question of choosing a perspective.  Life brings wonderful things to us, and can equally blindside us and bring tears to our eyes.  We know both sides are in our path – we do not choose what will happen, we choose how we read what happens. 

It reminds me of the old Jewish man who is lying in bed fearing the worst.  He calls to his wife, Goldie, and he says: ‘Goldeh, things are looking tough right now, but I’m remembering our years together.  I remember when we first were married, and suddenly our lives became hard, finding a place to live’.  Goldie nods her head.  ‘And Goldeh, I remember when we opened our first grocery store together, and we were robbed within a month.’  Goldie nods her head. ‘And Goldeh, don’t think I’ve forgotten that when we opened our second store together, it burned to the ground right after the insurance expired.’ Goldie nods her head.  ‘And through it all, Goldeh, you were there, every step, every moment.’  Goldie’s eyes fill and she nods. ‘And so, my Goldeh, in this moment of dire reflection, I have come to an important conclusion…’ Goldie leans closer, ‘My Goldeh…I now understand…you’re bad luck.’ 

It’s not what happens to us that shapes us, it’s how we choose to view it.  Ancient Egypt simultaneously produced slaves and leaders.  Our texts show us that Moses becomes our spiritual giant, Miriam becomes the guardian, and Aaron becomes the peacemaker.  Yet it is for us to choose what we see and where we focus. 

This Shabbat is the 10th day of Nisan, the day Miriam died.  Miriam, the quiet leader who brought us culture through her spontaneous song and dance; who brought us water in the wilderness through Miriam’s Well; who taught us guardianship as she protected her brother, Moses; who taught us to step into opportunities as she spoke to Pharaoh’s daughter and reunited her mother with Moses so they could bond.   

Our Sages teach us that we were redeemed from Egypt on the merit of the Jewish women, and so my thoughts move to Miriam and Goldie.  As Shabbat Hagadol leads us into Pesach, I choose to think of everything Miriam brought to us, and not to think of the great sadness they felt when they lost her.  I choose to think of Goldie, so strong, so loyal, so misunderstood. 

Our people is filled with Miriams and Goldies and Moses and Aarons.  Regardless of how busy things can get, may we never be the ones who choose not to see them. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.   

Also wishing everyone a meaningful, connected and beautiful Pesach. 

Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Thoughts As We Start The Book of Vayikra

This Shabbat we start reading the book of ‘Vayikra’ (Leviticus).  The first Hebrew word, designating the name of the book, says that God calls to Moses.  The invitation of calling to someone leaves us waiting to hear what a response might be.  In fact, most of the book of Vayikra discusses sacrifices, our ancient dialogue with God, which ultimately resolves into prayer, our modern dialogue with God.  All of it the result of God’s invitation and our response. 

But the last letter of this first word, an aleph, is written smaller than the other letters.  Interestingly, the last book of the Tanakh, Chronicles, also has an unusual letter in its first word.  Chronicles starts with the name ‘Adam’, but the aleph at the beginning of that word is larger than the other letters.  Two alephs, one smaller and one larger. 

Adam, the first human being, and Moses, our greatest Jewish leader, appear to be presenting us with opposite views.  The Midrash tells us that the aleph is smaller when God calls Moses because Moses is very modest and wants people to think that God happens to speak to him, not that God seeks him out.   

On the other hand, Adam, who represents all of humanity, has an enlarged aleph in his name to show a stronger, less humble, more confident appearance.  When it comes to humanity, there may be a greater calling. 

How are we to resolve the two alephs

We need them both to complete the portrait of a Jewish response when God calls. In our personal lives we are taught to be modest.  Jewish modesty doesn’t mean thinking less of ourselves, it means thinking of ourselves less often.  But when it comes to looking beyond ourselves, looking at others, entering the picture of peoplehood and humanity, we are to remember Adam and the larger aleph.  We are to find our confident, stronger voices and unite them to promote peace and protect the innocent. 

The two books, Vayikra and Chronicles, remind us of our two powers: the power of restraint, and the power to speak loudly and change the world.  As Pesach nears, we will sit at our seders and discuss ancient concepts of suffering and redemption, and then we will discuss the world around us.  Our discussions should include Adam and Moses, and which aleph should empower us in our responses. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 

Shabbat shalom, 


Rachael’s Thoughts as Pesach Approaches

Pesach is now two and a half weeks away, and our thoughts move back and forth between the cleaning and all the Seder arrangements that need to happen.  The cleaning is pretty routine, usually we do the same thing each year because it worked – no one looks for meaning in cleaning the house. Meaningfulness starts to appear when we need to get rid of our chametz. But, the Seders are a different story.  

The symbols on our Seder tables are the same every year, but they are intended to speak to us of a framework from which we can explore new perspectives.  These same symbols not only speak to us, they also speak to each other. 

We deliberately create a structure of opposites, and then we ritually experience them.  On our tables we see and taste the bitter and the sweet; we notice symbols of slavery and freedom; we speak of moments of despair and hope.  We have done this for so many years we run the risk of creating empty routines.  Our focus shifts from thinking about opposites to thinking linearly: start with making a Bracha…dip something in something else…eat it…turn the page…rinse and repeat…wait for the real food. 

But everything that sits on our Seder table invites us to find ourselves within a world of structured oppositions.  Between the bitter and the sweet, where am I – between feeling enslaved or feeling free, where would I put myself, when are there enough bad days that I start to feel despair, where is the hopeful moment? 

Pesach is not a celebration of Jewish history. Pesach is the realization that I always sit inside historic Jewish moments that have passed, as they blend with moments that are, to help me see a future that could be. 

I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate. 

Shabbat shalom,